NH Debate: Clinton Fumes as Edwards Takes Obama's Side [VIDEO]
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Manchester, N.H. - Hillary Clinton went on the attack against Barack Obama at the Democratic presidential debate Saturday night, but she ran into a tough push back not only from the Illinois Senator but also John Edwards, who took Obama's side and lashed out at her as an agent of "the status quo."
For Clinton, the forum provided her only real chance to stall Barack Obama's momentum before the January 8 state primary. Initially she appeared very cautious, as all the candidates conducted a sober discussion of nuclear and terrorist threats in which there was much more agreement than conflict.
But then, when the discussion turned to domestic policy, Clinton shifted gears to accuse Obama of holding three different positions on federal health care, of voting for the Patriot Act after promising he would vote against it, and of failing to call for federal health insurance that would cover everyone with no exceptions.
Clinton cited a news story contending that Obama "could have three pretty good debates with himself" on health care. "You've changed positions within [the past] three years on a range of issues," Clinton said. In the second half of the debate, she tried to tarnish Obama's claim to be a candidate who will severely constrain the power of lobbyists, noting that Obama's New Hampshire co-chair, Jim Demers, lobbies the New Hampshire legislature in behalf of the pharmaceutical and financial services industries.
"You've changed positions within three years on, you know, a range of issues that you put forth when you ran for the Senate, and now you have changed....you said you would vote against the Patriot Act. You came to the Senate; you voted for it. You said that you would vote against funding for the Iraq war. You came to the Senate, and you voted for $300 billion of it," Clinton declared.
Obama did not appear ruffled by the Clinton assault, stronger than her past rhetoric, and tried to discuss in detail the rationale for his position on health care, but then Edwards stepped in to make a much more aggressive defense both of Obama and himself:
"We [Edwards and Obama] have a fundamental difference about the way you bring about change. But both of us are powerful voices for change. And if I might add, we finished first and second in the Iowa caucus, I think in part as a result of that. Now, what I would say this: Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack. That's exactly what happens," Edwards said, clearly identifying Clinton with the status quo.
In a second clear reference to Clinton, Edwards said, "I didn't hear these kinds of attacks when she was ahead."
"I want to make change, but I've already made change," Clinton countered forcefully. "I'm not just running on the promise of change, I'm running on 35 years of change."
As the tension rose, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who was largely on the periphery of the debate, remarked, "Well, I've been in hostage negotiations that are a lot more civil than this."
Thomas B. Edsall is the political editor of the Huffington Post. He is also Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Sam Stein is a political writer for Huffington Post.